Poe pupils in festival spotlight

Heidi Shellhorn, a teacher at Poe Elementary School, returned from a Fund for Teachers fellowship to Europe last summer armed with hands-on experiences to enrich her curriculum. Recently that fellowship led to another benefit for her class.

Shellhorn and her third-graders were picked to participate in the Sister Cities International Children’s festivities at the opening ceremonies of the Houston International Festival Friday. The Poe pupils are representing Houston’s sister city Huelva, Spain.

The youths will chant a Spanish song they’ve learned for the occasion, wear special costumes provided by the SCIC and carry handmade banners.

Each year, the festival chooses a class to represent each of Houston’s 16 sister cities. After reading a recent story about Shellhorn and her fellowship abroad, a representative from the festival invited her class of 18 students to participate.

As the big day approaches, the pupils’ excitement is more and more obvious, Shellhorn said. It’s a big deal for the children to have someone outside the class notice them.

“They’re convinced they’re celebrities now,” she said, adding that the children have been extra motivated on their special research project since learning others will see the results.

Shellhorn’s class has been doing research projects on the culture, language and food of Spain, and are creating banners to represent Huelva and the different agricultural products the city produces. They are also planning to begin a pen pal program with school children in Huelva.

Shellhorn traveled to Spain and Portugal last July through a grant from the Fund for Teachers. The Houston-based non-profit organization awards grants to school teachers, allowing them to bankroll independent studies that enrich their curriculums and enhance their own personal growth.

In Shellhorn’s case, she joined a National Geographic iExplore tour group to visit a Portuguese castle, explore Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and witness the famed running of bulls in Pamplona.

Shellhorn said she continues to be amazed at the ways her FFT fellowship has enriched her classroom curriculum. The invitation from the festival is perhaps the most significant, she said, as it is an opportunity for her students to be directly involved.

Her FFT experience has helped her introduce a focus on different cultures in her classroom. Her students are aware that the lessons she brought back from her journeys in Spain and Portugal are based on the lives of real people.

Having received one grant, Shellhorn must wait to qualify for another application to the program.

“As soon as I can, I definitely will,” she said.